Over the weekend, I decided to combine my two loves – mountain trails and Craigslisting – for one absolutely adventurlicious experience. I agreed to watch four boys I’ve never met overnight, and take them hiking.
The boys: Ages 10, 8, 7, and 6. They love Nerf guns, violent video games, and watching TV.
The joint mission: Hike the treacherous trails up Liberty Mountain until we reach the forbidden region known as the LU Monogram. Ooooh. And don’t get attacked by bears or snakes. Shoot such creatures with Nerf gun darts.
Mom and dad took off to catch a plane, and I was left alone with the little tyrants. After an hour of repeatedly turning off the eighteen strategically placed televisions in the house, and plucking video game controllers from sticky, clinging hands, I loaded the crew of boys into my Ford Expedition, Nerf guns and extra foam darts in tow.
We reached the trails, and had a pleasant hike up the mountain. The torrential downpour had finally stopped. We saw toads and a red newt and butterflies and a tiny snake on our way. The boys exhibited healthy anxiety for the woods, as I described how four boys hiked this exact same trail last week, and were never heard from again. It was probably a bear that got them, and the only prevention of such an occurrence is to stay next to your babysitter at all times. They heeded my warnings.
At the top of the mountain, they oooh-ed and aaaah-ed at the monogram, threw some rocks, and shot off a few celebratory rounds from their Nerf guns. As if on cue, the sky opened up again, and angrily dumped on our heads. Not just heavy rain, but a backbreaking wall of water spewed from the dark clouds overhead.
At that moment, Tyler, 6, decided it was time to head back to the car. We gathered our plastic weapons and followed him. But with chubby, wussified Riley, 7, clinging to my hand, I could not run after the sprinting Tyler. Drew, 10, volunteered to go after Tyler. The rain was so heavy that once they were 50 feet ahead of me, I couldn’t see them.
I yelled for the youngest and oldest to come back. I wasn’t too worried, since I figured they would stop and wait for us before branching out into the woods, taking God knows what trail toward God knows what destination. I knew which trail to take, but they did not. I trudged along in the ridiculous rain the two middle children trailing alongside me.
We reached the trailhead, and there was no sign of the other two boys. I began to worry. The rain was merciless. It was warm, but I could hear and see nothing but water dumping on the trees. I yelled their names. And again. And again. No sign of them. I walked back and forth between the branching off of different trails, speculating which they would have taken. They could be lost for days.
After ten minutes, I decided to call the Liberty police department. They asked for a full description of the two boys. I emphasized that they were not “missing” per say, but had just been mislocated. They sent officers to where our car was parked and onto the trails. I picked a route and started down the mountain with Riley and his brother.
We walked and walked and walked. I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. If I got lost on the trails, there was no telling where the clueless little boys would end up. The police department called me back, asking for more information about the boys and their appearance and whereabouts.
I saw in my head my picture in the newspaper. The headline would read, “Worst babysitting mistake ever leads to death of two.” The kids would be mauled by a bear, or kidnapped by a forest hermit. I would be to blame. I would never recover from the guilt, and would become an alcoholic. Or maybe a hooker. Both were a possibility.
We finally, twenty or thirty minutes later, found our way out of the woods and back to the car. To my relief and surprise, Drew and Tyler were sitting in the backseat of the Expedition, gesturing impatiently at me. Seven police officers stood near the vehicle.
“Where were you guys?” Drew yelled at me. “You took forever.”
How the kid found his way back to the car I will never know. Why he didn’t stop I will never know. And beat him senseless – though I wanted to – I never will.
I thanked the policemen and drove the children home. I may never be asked to babysit again, having lost two children in the forest.